Monthly Archives: August 2014

Cornbread with Strawberry Peach Jam

You know how I said that this post would mention why my wedding thank you cards are late? It’s because it’s so easy to become distracted with new and shiny projects when there are slight blocks to doing chores. Although, technically, the thank you cards aren’t late. According to the general rule of wedding etiquette, one has a year to write them. I’m just on month 6. But am feeling horrible about not having them ALL done already (just about a third done so far). If anyone who was at my wedding is reading this, the notes are on their way! Am diligently writing out my appreciation and gratitude for your caring, friendship, and generosity, one thank you card an evening. My slowpoke schedule does not reflect my genuine thankfulness.

And speaking of new and shiny and blocks to doing things, that’s this post all over! I was planning on doing Part II of the Poundcake Smackdown this evening, but…I ran out of flour. I finished work too late to go shopping and the DH worked late too so he couldn’t. But I was itching to cook (New! Shiny!) something yummy to eat. I had just about a cup of flour leftover, so I decided to make some cornbread, since that was on my brainstorming list of meals-to-make-with-ingredients-already-in-the-house, that I write up every now and then and stick on my fridge. And since we had some yummy peaches in the fruit bowl, and some strawberries in the freezer, I decided to make strawberry-peach jam!

But, just like I had run out of flour, I didn’t have any eggs, and I needed eggs for the cornbread. Meh, I’m the Queen of Substitutions, so a tablespoon of ground flax seed and two tablespoons of water later, I had a flax egg! (It’s a thing, really. Google it.) Basically, if you let it soak, it gets a bit thicker and acts as a binder, the way an egg would.

And I had more peaches than the recipe I was using called for, so I tossed those in with the strawberries and just added an extra bit of lemon juice and honey to even things out. But as I was cooking it up, it seemed a bit runny to me, so I added a dash of fruit pectin. I don’t have a food processor like the recipe called for, so I mashed it by hand and then blended it.

Jam Fruit

The purdy, purdy fruit being cooked.

And did I mention that I didn’t have any cornmeal either? What I did have was a very roughly ground corn flour from Venezuela that the DH insists is the only type of corn flour one can use when making Venezuelan recipes, so hey, I substituted that for the cornmeal! (I really am the Queen of Substitutions.)

Up with substitutions! (Pan brand corn flour & ground flax seeds)

Up with substitutions! (Pan brand corn flour & ground flax seeds)

Want to make some too? The recipes, dear readers:

Rustic Cornbread:

  • 1 c. cornmeal (I used Pan brand corn flour, a mixture of the very coarse one and the finer textured one)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. white sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. ground flax
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1 1/2 c. milk

Mix up the ground flax and water and let sit for two minutes. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients and then add the dry ingredients. Mix. Pour into a greased muffin tin and bake at 400 until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick pushed into the centre of the muffin comes out cleanly. Makes about a dozen muffins.  What did I do? Well, if you ready this far, you know I had to do something differently. I used a mini muffin pan and a tortilla shaper pan to get some cool shapes. Why stick to the ordinary?

Strawberry-Peach Jam

  • 2 c. strawberries (I used frozen, about a stuffed sandwich bag full)
  • 3 peaches (cut up into chunks)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/3-1/2 c. honey
  • 1 tbsp. fruit pectin

 Plop all the ingredients into a pan on the stove, put on medium heat and cook until soft. Mash up until chunky, or use a hand blender if you prefer a finer jam. Boil until the jam turns a deeper red and there is foam on the top. Pour into sterilized jars and boil sealed jars for 15 min. to process. Take out and cool the jars on the counter. Once you hear the jars pop (the seals being sucked in as the jam cools down and contracts slightly), they’re ready for storage! Or, you can just pour the jam into a pretty container and keep it in the fridge for a few weeks (if it lasts that long, because yum!). Makes about 2 1/2 jars.

Time to make cornbread AND jam: start to finish, 90 minutes, including washing the dishes and eating the fruits of my labour. Z-snap!

Eat me!

Eat me!

And…the finished product! Was delicious! I stuck the loaf-ish thing into the freezer to have with chili or soup some time, and happily nibbled on the mini muffins. Now THIS is cornbread! It actually tastes like corn! Real corn! (And I’m pretty sure I saw a piece of corn stalk in the flour, so it really is rustic-style cornbread.) If you like thick jam, definitely add several tablespoons more of the pectin, as the version I made was more runny than some people like, I think.

I was trying to get across how adorable and cute the mini muffins are, but they look like they could be the same size as regular muffins so I was playing around with some different staging ideas to get a sense of scale. (Be gentle, I’m a cook/baker, not a food photographer, but I’m trying!)

I’m tiny, sooo tiny! *sung as Eliza Dolittle but with more squee*

I’m tiny, sooo tiny! *sung as Eliza Dolittle but with more squee*

What do you guys think? Do they look small? Let me know in the comments! And, do you guys substitute stuff?

Next Post: Part II of the Pound Cake Smackdown. Really. I’m pretty sure this time.

Poundcake Smackdown: Marga-Martha in the House!

So I was trying to think of some features to have regularly on this blog, and I thought a recipe smackdown (word totally borrowed from my favourite column, Advice Smackdown by Amalah) would be an awesome thing! That’s right, it’s a recipe showdown! In this corner, Martha Stewart! In the other corner, some random recipe I found on the back of a notecard!

I mean, obviously we had to start with a Martha Stewart recipe. The only other logical choice was Julia Child and JulieandJulia was all over that. And anyway, I read somewhere that Martha Stewart started catering after she cooked everything from Julia Child’s recipe book, as she then felt she had mastered cooking. And poundcake, because a) I like my sweets and b) sour cream was on sale.

Tangential story, the year after I graduated from university, I had several part-time jobs (at one point, I was working five part-time jobs. Simultaneously. Yeah. I like to stay busy.) including one at the University of Toronto in a psychology laboratory. I would take the TTC for over an hour to get there, work all day in a highly air-conditioned dungeon of a laboratory, and head home on the TTC in the evenings, only popping out to grab lunch from a food truck or that yummy bakery on Harbord St.

Even though I was working long hours, I still liked to bake during my (ha!) downtime. I also liked to spread the sweets love, so I often brought yummy things to work (including my super-duper brownies, the recipe for which I’ll give you another time, the recipe which brought me fame and acclaim from my friends and their parents and on and on and so forth). The other lab peeps ended up calling me Marga-Martha; I wore the name with pride.

But back to our smackdown! So, it’s Martha Stewart’s Lemon Pound Cake from her Cakes book vs. Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake (literally from the back of a notecard – see the picture in the next post) for our first Recipe Smackdown!

The contenders! Martha Stewart vs. Random Recipe

The contenders! Martha Stewart vs. Random Recipe

I checked the book out of the library, but I think the book is worth buying because there are so many great recipes in it. To get around copyright laws, here’s the recipe, slightly modified, or should I say, “adapted from”:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbsp. grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

Mix butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Add flour/baking soda/salt mixture, alternating with sour cream.

Grease pan, pour in a bit of flour and shake it all around until the pan is lightly floured, and pour in batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a fork/knife/skewer inserted into the centre comes out without unbaked batter on it.

While it’s baking, let’s make the candied lemons slices and syrup! You’ll need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 to 1/4 lemon juice

Boil the water and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer the solution with the lemon slices in it, until the slices are opaque, about 35 minutes. Remove the slices and let them rest on a tray or plate or what have you. (Martha says wax paper.) Stir the lemon juice into the sugar syrup that is left after you remove the slices.

When the cakes are done, use a chopstick or skewer and poke holes in the cakes all over. Then pour almost all of the syrup over the tops of the cakes. Let them sit until they’re cool. Then remove them from the pan and paint the sides of the cakes with the remaining syrup (this helps stop the cake from drying out).

Then it’s time to glaze and decorate! Mix:

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 4-6 tbsp. lemon juice

Pour over cooled pound cakes. Let sit until dry, and place candied lemon slices over the top. Rejoice in your baking skills. Boast. And let us eat cake!

If you squint real good, you can even read the recipes.

If you squint real good, you can even read the recipes.

And…here’s the finished product! Pretty awesome, huh?

Deliciousness, thy name is pound cake!

Deliciousness, thy name is pound cake!

Here’s another picture. I kind of like this one better, but it has a crumb showing in it (perfectionist much, Margaret?), so I retook it, which is the picture you see above.

Pound Cake, or should I say, Crumb Cake

Pound Cake, or should I say, Crumb Cake

My advice: use a mandolin to slice the lemon for the candied lemon slices so that they’re super thin or else they won’t candy properly. (Candy is now a verb. I said so.) Also, I used limes instead of lemons (although I did use lemon juice to add to the juice of the limes that I used) because that’s what I had lying around and I’m all about the substitutions (I have got to tell you about my cake pop substitutions one time. Remind me, ok?).

The verdict? Yum! A bit labour intensive but very pretty. It’s supposed to make two loaves but I only had one loaf pan so I made one loaf (surprise!) and a dozen mini bundt cakes. If you’re making mini bundt cakes in a pan, make sure to under-fill them, as I didn’t and ended up with muffins tops on the bottoms of my mini bundts. (Say that seven times fast! Or better yet, with innuendo!) The DH didn’t care, he just called them muffins and when I woke up the next morning, the ones that were out on the counter had mysteriously disappeared. There were a few in the freezer that he didn’t know about, two packed for our lunches the next day, a couple in my tummy, and the rest in his.

About 36 hours later, the entire loaf was gone (I will admit to having eaten a bit more than half of it. What can I say? I did tell you that I like my sweets!), so I think we can call the recipe a success. I liked the moistness of the cake that came from the soaking with lemon simple syrup, so I’d definitely recommend that you don’t skip that step. You can easily skip the candied lemon slices though, pretty as they are. Oh, and how on earth did she get the icing to be that white? I followed her icing recipe exactly and mine was more translucent. Did she cheat? Is that really glue in the photo, masquerading as icing? Only her food stylist knows for sure.

If you make this recipe, let me know, okay? I’d love to hear what your thoughts on it are.

Next Post: Sour Cream Citrus Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze and why my wedding thank you notes are late.

Intro, Part 3 (In which I blather on about my cooking)

I learned to cook from my mum, starting with learning how to fry an egg, when I was around 5 or 6, under supervision. However, I don’t really like eggs (unless they’re scrambled. From free-range hens. I’ll spare you the horrifying lecture on caged hen eggs but trust me when I say that free-run are the way to go.). I do, however, like my sweets! Mmmmm…baked goods, I am there! My mum didn’t cook many sweets when I was younger, or at least not as many as I wanted, but by hanging out in the kitchen and watching her cook meals for our family, I learned the basics like chopping and frying and mixing and such. She’s an awesome from scratch cook, with an international palate, so I grew up appreciating food and a homecooked dinner every night. As I got older, she let me make sweets occasionally, usually simple almond drop cookies, and that’s where my love of cooking took off.

From there I used the same recipe book and made jelly rolls (simple but tasty and fancy looking) and eclairs (surprisingly easy and definitely elegant) before moving on her to recipe magazine collection from the 70’s and 80’s. Due to those magazines, I baked fancy fruit studded bread for every Christmas for a number of years, although after the first year, the (failed) crème fraiche never made a reappearance.

In high school, I would come home after exams and treat myself by baking chocolate cupcakes from scratch and top them with a buttercream frosting. In university, I managed to make a black forest cake using only a microwave and borrowed beer fridge space, but developed my favourite recipe for baked macaroni and cheese with leftover ham (on a student budget, a ham steak had to last at least two days) with a real cheese sauce from scratch and seasoned bread crumbs on top, that I loved to eat after a yoga class while watching the original Jamie Oliver series, the Naked Chef.  In graduate school I hosted smorgasbords with my fellow classmates, making everything from potato and onion rosti to spinach curry and also writing a cooking column for a year for the student newspaper. One of the most popular articles? Bananas in caramel sauce. There’s a story behind that one, and I’ll tell it you all sometime.

After grad school, I moved back home and ceded most of the  cooking to my younger sister who liked to cook so much that my mum rationed her to one dessert recipe a week, as we were all gaining weight. But I missed cooking. Making the occasional dish for a potluck, even if it was a margarita pie with a pretzel crust and a big hit, just wasn’t the same thing.

So when I moved into my condo, it was time to get some cooking done! I had moved across the city, my fiancé had moved in, and then I lost my job, so…time to cook! The highlight of my days were the dinners I would make my fiancé. I made him crème brule with blueberry coulis, I made him traditional cheese terrine served over a salad, I made him homemade roasted red peppers and baby tomatoes served on homemade focaccia with a basil-infused mayo. He told me once that when he and I got together, his quality of life went up, and one of the factors was that he got to come home every evening to a delicious meal. His only complaint was that I tried to find the best recipes so I rarely repeated a recipe and would occasionally lose track of his favourites. (I know. I spoil my boy.)

Anyway, the long story short is, when it came to trying to think of something to blog about, something I’m passionate about, where the topic won’t get stale, and I’ll never run out of ideas, obviously I had to write about food. Specifically, a self-trained cook, cooking for herself and her husband in their condo. Cue the cozy domesticity!

So, yes, this blog is about the creative satisfaction of cooking, about making meals that real people eat, in real people time (I also work outside the home), about trying to find the best recipes out there and about trying to stretch my cooking skills while I’m at it. Join me? I’ll link the recipes to the blog posts, so that you can try them too (I’m interested in feedback), and put in pictures so that you can see how they turned out.

Next Post: Poundcake Smackdown, or How I Learned to Stop Being A Perfectionist and Love The Cake

Intro, Part 2 (Me, me, me, meeeee!)

I’m now married to the love of my life, my darling husband (DH), and we live happily in Toronto in a condo I bought for myself before I got married. One of the reasons I loved my condo is that it has a big kitchen, for a condo. A great big gorgeous kitchen island so that I never have to be crowded for room when cooking, an open concept kitchen so that I can mingle with guests when entertaining, but still keep an eye on the food. And lots of storage space! It’s kind of my ideal condo, and I loved it when I first saw it…mostly because of the kitchen island, I have to be honest.  So, yes, I cook, I bake, I eat! I especially love to eat.

Next Post: My Early Years, or The Proto-Cook In Training

Intro, Part 1 (Blog-her, she said?)

I started thinking about a blog years ago, but as my husband the I.T. guy says, the first thing that you have to think about is content.  He said that because at the time I was blathering on about how I felt I could start a blog because I figured I knew a smidgen about page views and stuff, but really, prior to that, I wanted a blog because I felt I had something to say.

But what would be the cohesive thread that pulled it all together? My observations on the world? I did have a wonderful idea for an article all about the sub-culture of hostel staff (often travellers or immigrants, and quite transitory – even some salaciousness thrown in) when I went travelling to Europe one year and stayed in hostels in Italy and France.  I had a fascinating idea for an article about the type of personalities drawn towards multi-player war games as I was listening to an (ex-) boyfriend talk about the people he played games with. I dated a guy from England for a little while and thought that if I moved, I could blog about the transition to living in England and dealing with the cultural shift and the little things one learns about how to fit into a new life and a new social circle. I dated another guy, a South American, and thought that if I moved to South America with him, I could blog about that, the culture shock of the polite Canadian when immersed in a new and emotive life in South America.

Ooh, ooh, just got a good idea: a blog about all the guys I dated before meeting my husband? Would appeal to the searching for Mr. Right’s out there, and it’s interesting.  A decade of dating  and an open-mindedness to new experiences has made for some interesting times. Maybe even a book. Oh, wait, I think I vaguely remember a friend telling me she’s writing a book about the men in her life. Huh. Too bad. I have some good stories! But I digress.

The first two ideas were more article types; did I have enough ideas in a similar vein to write a blog? That’s a lot of pressure to write something smart and fresh repeatedly. Do I have consistently have enough unique insights that I could blog about them? I wasn’t sure. The second two ideas I think would have been good, but, well, life evolved differently. I’ll tell you more in my second post.

Next Post: And Then There Were Two